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Groups Ask Court to Stop Federal Spending on Four Snake River Dams

Groups are asking federal agencies to halt investment in four Snake River dams that could be torn down.(m01229/Flickr)
Groups are asking federal agencies to halt investment in four Snake River dams that could be torn down.(m01229/Flickr)
January 12, 2017

LEWISTON, Idaho — Conservation and fishing groups are calling for a halt to spending projects on four lower Snake River dams that they say could be torn down to help salmon in the Northwest.

The groups filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Portland this week to cut off an estimated $110 million in projects for the dams. A second motion, with the support of the Nez Perce Tribe, asks to spill more water over dam spillways to increase survival rates for endangered wild salmon during their spring run.

Rod Sando, former director of Idaho Fish and Game, said investing in the dams now would unfairly tip the scales toward keeping them.

"If you proceed with repairs on a substantial scale,” Sando argued, "then you have a further justification for keeping them that's based on the economics of it rather than what we would consider, as these dams are failing in ways that don't help the fish."

A federal judge ruled in May that federal agencies must consider breaching the dams to help salmon populations in the Northwest. Backers of the dams have said they play a role in transportation on the river and provide a source of hydroelectric power.

As federal agencies review next steps for the dams, environmental and fishing groups say allowing more water over the dam spillways is critical for salmon in the Columbia River basin. Sando said that opposing more "spill" leaves the fish vulnerable.

"The advantage that it has is that these small fish don't go through the turbines, where they're subjected to a lot of injury and pressure changes and so on, where they have fairly high delayed mortality caused by that. They're weaker, they're subjected to predatory fish and that sort of thing,” Sando said.

The four dams in question are Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite. The federal agencies are taking public comments on the future of the Columbia and Snake River System here, through February 7.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID